Why does Norway award the Nobel Prize for Peace ?

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards best owed in several categories be Swedish and Norwegian institutions in recognition of academic, cultural, or scientific advances.

The will of the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel established the five Nobel prizes in 1985. The prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901. In 1968, Sweden’s central  bank established the Sveriges Risbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which, although not being a Nobel Prize, has become informally known as the “Nobel Prize in Economics”. The prizes are  widely regarded as the most prestigious awards available in the fields of chemistry, economics, literature, peace activism, physics, and physiology or medicine.

Alfred Nobel has managed to accumulate a huge wealth due to the dynamite. When he died in 1896 and let behind an impressive fortune, it was understandable that everyone was waiting for his testament  to be opened and see how the money will be used.

When this happened, it was very clear that he wanted the money to be invested in research. Every year awards would be given to the researchers in the domains of physics, chemistry, literature, but also to the ones who contribute decisively to the building of peace around the world. Probably the decision to include an award for peace was influence by his friendship with the Austrian activist Bertha von Suttner. All of these awards are given by Svenska Vetenskap akademien, the Academy of Sciences of Sweden, except the Nobel prize for Peace. The awarding of this Prize is the responsibility of a committee chosen by Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament.

It is not very clear though why Norway was chosen. There were multiple hypothesis, for example, at that moment Norway was in a personal union with Sweden, thus “the little brother” of Sweden would deserve to enjoy this honor. The research in natural sciences and medicine was a lot more advanced in Sweden, so it was normal to be established there decisional councils, and regarding the literature, despite the rich and impressive quantity of Norvegian lyrical works which Nobel was admiring, Norway didn’t have a capable institution to handle the award. So what was left was peace.

Another explanation was that in that time Norway didn’t have a military tradition as well defined as Sweden. Probably the peace activists like Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson or his counselor Ragnar Sohlman, who was married to a Norwegian, inspired Alfred Nobel. And also it is important to remember that at the end of the 19th century, the  parliament of Norway made huge efforts in the interparlamentary union to manage the conflicts in a peaceful way and to make a elegant separation from Sweden. Nobel appreciated very much this capacity to mediate problems, so Norway was entitled  for awarding the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Nobel’s family tried to contest the testament, but with no success. Therefore, in 1901 Norway awarded the first Nobel Prize for Peace to Henry Durant and Frederc Passy.


Written by: Catalin POPSOR